The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France are to hold talks in Berlin on August 17 to try defuse tensions in Ukraine.
The meeting between Russia's Sergei Lavrov, Pavlo Klimkin of Ukraine, and their French and German counterparts comes after Kyiv claimed its forced destroyed a Russian armored column, and a top separatist leader announced he was in the process of receiving reinforcements from Russia.
Speaking to “Bild” newspaper on August 16, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed hope the talks would help put an end to fighting in eastern Ukraine, where pro-government forces are battling pro-Russian separatists, and provide the region with "urgent and necessary aid."
France suggested the meeting could be a "first step" toward a face-to-face encounter between the Ukrainian and Russian heads of state.
President Francois Hollande called on Russia to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and said Ukraine should exercise "restraint and discernment in its military activities."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on August 16 that pro-government forces had captured the town of Zhdavinka, located some 40 kilometers northeast of the city of Donetsk.
No independent confirmation of the claim was possible.
The separatists' Novorossiya Agency website did not report fighting in the Zhdanivka area but did say several neighborhoods in Donetsk had been hit by shelling and people had been killed.
Late on August 15, the prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, said the separatists would soon receive some 150 armored vehicles and 1,200 fighters trained in Russia, and launch a counteroffensive.
Ukraine earlier said it had destroyed part of a Russian armored column that crossed the border the previous night.
Russia, which denies arming or training the rebels, rejected the allegations as "fantasy."
In Berlin, a spokesman for the German government said on August 16 that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Poroshenko agreed in a phone call that deliveries of weapons to separatists in Ukraine must stop.
According to the White House, Poroshenko also spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The two agreed that Russia's military activities in eastern Ukraine were “inconsistent with any desire to improve the humanitarian situation” there.
Also on August 16, Russia and Ukraine edged closer to a deal to let a convoy of humanitarian aid pass across the border by agreeing on how to inspect the contents of the lorries.
Pascal Cuttat of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on August 16 that Russian and Ukrainian officials met for several hours in the Russian border town of Donetsk, some 200 kilometers east of the Ukrainian city of the same name, and agreed the inspection of the cargo would take place there.
But Cuttat said there were still no security guarantees in place for his staff to escort the convoy, which is stalled on the Russian side of the border.
In his conversation with Biden, Poroshenko said safe passage had not been secured from the separatists for the delivery of Russian aid.
With reporting by AFP, ITAR-TASS, AP, AFP, Interfax, UNIAN, and Agenstvo Novorossiya